In Penal times there were only hedge schools. From the very sparse records which have survived, we learn that at the Archbishop’s Visitation of Loughmore in 1754, Edmund Dwyer, schoolmaster of Loughmore, had nine students listed as “boys that have the Christian doctrine”: Thomas Craffort, Teobald Blacke, Derby Blacke, Willm. Ryan, Michael Keogh, Patrick Campin, John Hease, Willm. Sturat and Jams. Hanharty.
In these hedge schools, English reading and writing was almost as important as arithmetic. An advertisement for a teacher by the parish priest of Loughmore, Co. Tipperary, in 1788 is indicative of the growing importance of English in the hedge school curriculum: “Required, a man who understands English well and teaches it with good accent, also arithmetic … he must be a man of undoubted good morals.”
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, English was rapidly replacing Irish as the medium of instruction in the hedge schools. Elementary literacy was usually an attainment of the English, rather than of the Irish language. The lack of printed books in Irish was partly responsible for this result. The change to English was also a product of the use of English in business affairs, and there was an apparent carelessness of the parents in transmitting a knowledge of Irish to their children.
To the child of the early nineteenth century, English was a foreign language, but to the anxious parent in that time of poverty and distress, when the Irish language was looked upon as the stigma of illiteracy and serfdom, the language of the ascendancy was the all-important means of advancing the interests of their children. In every account of the common schools of the period, almost without exception, reading and writing of English and arithmetic were the basic subjects taught.
Some schools taught the classics. At the end of the 1700s there was a celebrated classical school in Castleiney at the Washpin (Kilcurkee) run by William Meagher. The following is part of an account of it, deriving from Fr Martin Laffan, a native of Kilcurkee. “There were between 80 and 90 scholars, one third at least coming from Connaught and Ulster, many from Co. Cavan, and a big number from Kilkenny, Cork and Waterford. The students came for classics. The scholars were lodged in the houses of the neighbouring farmers. Bedding was free, butter was 3½ pence per pound, eggs 4 pence a dozen, potatoes 1½ pence a stone. Some of the scholars were over 20 years of age and helped on the seasonal work of the farm. Turf cutting they did not like.
The Ulster men were smart. All, especially the Connaught men spoke in Irish. Wealth was forgotten, class distinction was unknown. Candidates for the Church, for Medicine, for other avocations vied with each other in acquisition of knowledge. Rev. Fr Mullally, P.P., frequently visited and examined the pupils.”
Nineteenth Century Schools. Records in the Department of Education show that in 1824 there were four schools in the Loughmore side of the parish and two in Castleiney. The one in Clogheraily was run by William Ryan on an annual income of £25, and was held in a building of stone and mud walls valued £10, with an attendance of 63. The one in Ballybrista was run by Thomas Bryan on an income of £22-15s. in a comfortable thatched house valued £7, and had an attendance of 40. The one in Killahara was run by James Bergin on an income of about £12, and was in a wretched cabin, with an enrolment of 20. The one in Graiguefrehane was run by Michael Cahill on an annual income of £20 in a comfortable thatched house and had an enrolment of 60. The schools in Clogheraily, Ballybrista and Graiguefrehane were described as being built by the people.
The British Government decided in 1831 to offer some funding for schools in Ireland, thereby initiating what became the National School system. However, the conditions set for these made the Church deeply suspicious of them and it was only gradually that the clergy came round to accepting them, largely because, whatever the British Government had intended them to be, they could be organised as genuinely Catholic schools.
Application was made in 1832 by Fr James Mullally and his two curates, Fr William Mullally and Fr John Butler, for funding under the National Education scheme. But Fr James Mullally died in December 1832 before the projected school could be built, and the application for funding from the National Board was struck off in 1835.
There was a lot of opposition on the part of some priests to having anything to do with the Government’s National School scheme, and the new P.P., Fr David Dee, who succeeded Fr Mullally as P.P. from 1833-55 was implacably opposed to the National School scheme and cancelled his predecessor’s plans to join it. Fr Dee continued to run his own schools without Government assistance. In his reports to the Archbishop he strongly stresses that none of his schools were National Schools.
For the Archbishop’s Visitation in 1846 he reported five schools in Loughmore and four in Castleiney. It is clear that only a small proportion of the children attended school — the Archbishop confirmed 679 children in the parish that year, which would be far in excess of the total capacity of the nine schools. Illiteracy according to the census of 1841, i.e., persons over 5 years of age who could neither read nor write, was 49% for males and 61% for females in Loughmore east of the river, while in the rural part of Loughmore west of the river, it was 47% for males and 64% for females; in Loughmore Village, it was 29% for the males and 42% for the females.
In the aftermath of the Famine, schooling declined further. For the 1851 Visitation Fr Dee could report only three schools in the parish, two in Loughmore and one in Castleiny, none of them in the national school system. The master in one of the Loughmore schools had died in the previous week, and the other two were Kyran Kelly and Thomas Brien. There was an average attendance of about 50 in each of the parish schools.
The Ordnance Survey maps (surveyed 1840, printed 1843) do not mark any schools in Castleiney, and only two in Loughmore, one in the village where Taffy McGrath’s pub was, and the other opposite the road into Lisheenataggart.
Fr Dee’s school policies were reversed by his successor. Fr John Cooney (1855-61) established National Schools for boys and girls in both Loughmore and Castleiney. His successor Fr Meagher (1861-5) told the Archbishop at the 1864 Visitation that the boys’ and girls’ school in Castleiney which had become the National School was built in 1855 at a cost of £90.
The Loughmore National School was built in 1857 on a new site leased for a shilling a year from John George Adair who had just recently bought the townland of Tinvoher from the Encumbered Estates Court. Like the Castleiney school, it probably also cost about £90, and like all such schools of the time, it had two rooms, one for the boys and the other for the girls. The details of the Castleiney school given in the Inspector’s report include the information that there were two school-rooms, each 24 ´ 16 ´ 11 feet (just under 36 m2), with earthen floors and a fireplace, with 4 desks in each room plus forms, each 9 feet 7 inches long, able to accommodate 60 children. There were 34 boys and 43 girls present on the day of inspection, a little less than the average of 83 for the previous 6 months.
We know the name of one of the teachers in the Loughmore National School, Laurence Ahern, who was teacher in Loughmore National School from 1863 to 1898. Pat McCarthy and Mary Mackey were the teachers in Castleiney when it joined the National School system in 1857, and the Government provided a grant of £17 and £19 per annum for their salaries.
Gradually the attendance at school increased. Canon Hackett (1893-1915) in 1904 reported to the Archbishop that the average attendance of the four schools in the parish (boys’ and girls’ schools in Loughmore and in Castleiney) at that time was 200.
We know from the surviving registers and other documents that the pattern of school-going was somewhat different from today. Towards the end of the 1800s, the State paid only for pupils who attended more than 100 days in the year, and an examination of the attendance lists drawn up shows that in the depths of cold winter, the younger children were often kept at home, while at other times the older children would be missing, presumably when their help was needeed on the farm.
The effect of the availability of the National Schools to all since 1857 becomes evident too in the level of literacy. At the census of 1901, the number of heads of households who could not sign their names and had to sign with an “X” had declined to 16%. Anyone over 60 in 1901 would have had little or no chance of schooling when they were children. Even those who were able to sign their names on the census forms often do so in way which shows their hands were more used to the shovel than the pen.
New Schools. In 1932 under the direction of the Parish Priest, Canon John Russell, it was decided to build a new school in Loughmore and this was agreed with the Department of Education. The parish had to provide the site at its own expense, and the Government would provide a two-third grant for cost of the building. Land was bought by the parish across the road from the church. For the 1¼ acre site the Land Commission charged £17-3s.-8d., and the owner, then buying out his freehold from the Land Commission, charged £200 to release his interest. With a donation of £50 returned, but with legal fees added, the final cost of the land to the parish was £169-1s.-3d., equivalent to over €12,000 today. The new school was ready for occupation in September 1933. The final total cost of the 1933 school building was £2,626-7s.-8d. of which the Department paid two thirds, £1,750-18s.-5d, and the parish paid one third, £875-9s.-3d. plus the cost of the land. The school consisted of four rooms, each 36 m2, designed for a maximum of 152 pupils, with separate entrances at the boys’ and girls’ ends of the school. The old school then became available as a parish hall.
Schools in 1963. Not long after he became Archbishop, Dr Morris had a survey done of all parish properties, including the schools. Loughmore and Castleiney schools were surveyed in November 1963. Neither had electric light, running water or indoor sanitation at the time, nor any cooker, sink or drainer. In both schools the sanitary conveniences were dry latrines, 50 yards from the Loughmore school and 18 yards from the Castleiney school. In both schools, heating was by solid fuel in open fireplaces. In Loughmore the school construction was described as generally good, in Castleiney it was generally poor.
Soon afterwards, the Parish Priest, Fr Walter Skehan, installed running water, flush toilets and concrete play areas in Loughmore school (1964) at a cost of £4,200, and in Castleiney school (1967-8) at a cost of £2,500. Oil-fired central heating was also installed, replacing the old fireplaces and the practice of pupils bringing a sod of turf to fuel the fire.
Further improvements were made in Loughmore school by Fr Dooley in 1993-4 with the installation of a new and safer entrance, a parking or unloading area for parents delivering their children to the school, and a new pathway up to the school door. Also new double-glazed windows and new window-blinds were installed in each room, and also wash hand-basins with hot water in each classroom, and increased insulation in the attic,. The cost was over £8,000, grant-aided to 85% by the Department, the rest paid by the parish, the windows being sponsored by individual parishioners. Much of the external work was done by FÁS workers. The telephone was installed too in 1994, followed by other modernisations such as computers and a School Secretary. In the later years the school became a four-teacher school, and the personnel were increased, and enriched, by Remedial and Resource Teachers and Special Needs Assistants.
Looking back, the then Parish Priest and school staff wonder how the school ever got on without these conveniences.
Loughmore School Extension 2006. The project for the school extension first began in 1999 when the school authorities discussed with the school inspector the need for an extra classroom. She advised that the school, which was built as a four-classroom school in 1933 in accordance with the standards of that time, was now severely substandard. For example the standard classroom in 1933 was 36 m² whereas now the standard specification for a classroom is 76 m². This is easily understandable if you consider that the standard equipment of a classroom of 1933 was just a blackboard and a stick of chalk, whereas the classroom of today is filled with all kinds of educational equipment, computers, visual aids, special needs equipment and so on. For this reason another inspector wisely advised us that in school planning one should plan ahead, not for the short term but for a century.
Eventually the Department of Education and Science authorised an extension which would increase the school to 4 full-size classrooms, with other smaller classrooms for remedial teaching, a general purpose room, staff room, secretarial office, and so on. Department regulations required the parish to provide, at its expense, the site and also contribute 10% of the cost, capped at £25,000. A fundraising committee was formed and a very successful ‘Dog Night’ was held the Greyhound Track, Thurles.
Since the extension would take up most of the existing playground, the parish had also to purchase, at its own expense, a couple of acres of adjacent land as a playing pitch at a cost of over €66,000. Donations of £10,000 from parish funds, £5,000 each from the GAA and a well-wisher, and $5,000 from the past pupil and Olympic athlete, John Kelly, along with the proceeds from the sale of a donated heifer and half the proceeds from a Sale of Work, brought in nearly half of this. Envelope collections brought in about €13,000 or 20%, and this left €18,000 or 27% still owing to the parish.
The Department nominated a team of architects, engineers and others to design the building. Due to the inefficiencies of the people nominated and changes in the preliminary plans, the project suffered delays and eventually fell foul of Government cut-backs, and was “mothballed” with no prospect of the extension being built for several years.
A change in Government policy in 2003 visualised “Devolved” schemes where a smaller sum of money would be allotted for school projects, with less bureaucratic regulations. In the case of Loughmore this amounted to €440,000 instead of the €1,150,000 which the original architect’s project would have cost. In February 2005 the Board of Management of Loughmore N.S. school accepted the “Devolved” project which would provide the essentials, namely, three new standard 76 m² classrooms with the old school being re-arranged to accommodate one 72 m² classroom, and smaller rooms for remedial, resource, staff, and other purposes. It was necessary to forgo the prospect of a general purpose room or hall and other elements of the original scheme.
Since the €440,000 grant from the Department was supposed to cover absolutely everything, and about €90,000 would be absorbed by architect’s and other professional fees, archaeological consultancy required by the Planning Authorities, plus VAT on all these as well as VAT on builder’s costs and materials, the actual amount available for the building was €350,000. By contrast, the originally sanctioned cost of the school built in 1933 was £2,304-10s.-0d. of which the parish was to pay one third, £768-3s.-4d., and the Department to pay the rest, £1,536-6s.-8d. With additions the final cost in 1933 was £2,626-7s.-8d, which would be about €200,000 in ccurent terms.
The firm of M.T. Molloy of Portlaoise was chosen by the Board of Management as Architect and they prepared a general plan, which was accepted by the Board. The plans were sent to Tipperary N.R. County Council Planning Department for planning permission, which we expected to be granted in mid-July 2003. The planning authority imposed conditions that resulted in bureaucratic delays so that the preliminary planning permission was not granted until mid-November 2004. This delay plus the extra expense was very frustrating particularly when compared with the 1½ years it took for the building of the old school in 1933. The first parish meeting to plan a replacement of the old 1857 school (now the parish hall) took place in February 1932 and the children were in the new school in September 1933.
The definitive planning permission was issued in January 2005, but work began only in July 2006. The original Department grant of €440,000 was insufficient to cover the projected costs, but negotiations with the officials of the Department of Education, who were very cooperative, succeeded in having the grant increased by 40% to a total of €616,000, which was sufficient.
The school extension was available for occupancy on 31st March 2008 after the Easter break, over a year later than originally envisaged, and the pupils moved from temporary accommodation in the Parish Centre (which is an extension of the old 1857 school) into their spacious and modern classrooms. The school now had the facilities and the expertise to offer a high quality education to the children of the parish for many years to come.
There was an official and formal opening of the new extension by Archbishop Clifford in association with the parish Confirmation on the 4th March 2009.
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